Friday, April 19, 2013

Beware of the Miraculous Sword Appearance

A week ago, I went to see a collegiate production of Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra. I know it isn't groundbreaking blog fodder--especially when there is legit drama happening all over my city this week--but I do like to share things that are relevant to writing. Which this post will be. Eventually.

First, some important background information:

  • This production was at my alma mater, where drama isn't a major. 
  • I'm pretty sure that this is still the only production during the academic year.
  • I "acted" for this theater troupe for 5 years.
  • I have zero acting ability outside my feigning enjoyment from horrible gift ideas.
  • I went to this play as an additional level of support for a friend, who wasn't even involved in this production. (Which is a totally separate story and not mine to share.)
I totally admit that I embarked on a Twitter spree during the production heckling a lot of what I saw. Don't get me wrong, I do acknowledge the amount of work these students put into the production. Shakespeare is hard, there's no denying that. And to put on an amazing Shakespearian production, you need a budget (or at least the ability to have all believable props on set). 

This doesn't change the fact I noticed some troublesome things during the ~3 hour production, namely acting so stiff that even high emotion scenes were like cardboard and the lack of props and set dressing. So of course I heckled the production, but even with the most heckle-worthy art, there's a learning experience that can be applied to writing.

In this production of Antony and Cleopatra, all the men are weaponless. This is problematic for two reasons: one, the text contains oaths that include "by my sword" where sword isn't a euphemism. Also, there are skirmishes between Antony and Caesar. This means there should be weapons galore, but we only see wooden staves during the battles and Pompeii's shield in Act I. Until we get to the part of the play where Antony begs for his underling to kill him; only then is a sword finally seen.

A little too convenient, don't you think?

It's also a bit of a cheat. During the first draft process, chances are that you've committed this kind of fraud. That's acceptable. It's easy to introduce a critical prop in the eleventh hour. This is the beauty of first drafts. This is why we revise.

The job of a writer is to be a storyteller. That means connecting all the dots and allowing the reader to be so engrossed in the story that they live it with your characters. We know this. One way to ensure that this happens is to make sure props show up realistically and not conveniently.

What's the oddest last minute prop or set piece you've incorporated in a story?

2 comments:

  1. Hmm. I can't think of anything off the top of my head, but maybe where this play is concerned, they expected more imagination.

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    Replies
    1. Good point and I'm the first person to willingly suspend disbelief... to a degree. I still hold that a sword should have been present from the beginning, like Chekhov's gun.

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